...the bits that don't quite gel reveal as much about their talent as the many times they make it seem effortless...
There’s a lot to thank The Coral for – almost single-handedly they saved Liverpool’s music scene from being totally swamped by stocky guys ploddingly dreaming of getting to fetch supper for Noel Gallagher one day, and reconnected the city with its lost tradition of befuddled experimentation. Reminding the world of the great try-it-and-see spirit of Boo Radleys and great lost psyche-lords Mr Ray’s Wig World was a neat trick, but the problem with novelty is that it rubs off faster than a three quid henna tattoo at a rainy music festival. The Coral have suffered from an image problem that has had them linked forever in the mind with the barrel-organ sound of ‘Dreaming Of You’ – they’ve become, in effect, oompah-lumpers and have had trouble convincing the world that there’s anything new to be had from their corner. Even the bloke who works the Amazon CD warehouse section from Cop Shoot Cop to Costello, Elvis might be a little surprised to discover that this is actually their fourth album. It’s clear something needs to change, and ‘The Invisible Invasion’ sees The Coral attempting to expand their range. It’s not a “grow a moustache and move to Bridlington” type of reinvention; more like the change when they put Smarties into a different-shaped packet.
Production-marshalled by Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, this is still clearly a Coral album, but the chirpy psychedelia signature has been calmed down considerably and no longer dominates the speakers. Freed of the need to sound how people expect them to, the seven piece get the chance to show that they can turn in proper, craft-standard pop when they need to. After years of self-consciously trying to sound like nobody else, ‘The Invisible Invasion’ finally sees the band being a bit more brazen about their influences, from the opening Byrds-in-an-Indian-restaurant of ‘She Sings In The Morning’ through lead single ‘In The Morning’ hinting around the mellow end of the Boo Radleys catalogue. There’s more than a dash of the Inspiral Carpets ribbed through the tracks, too, although if you get a bunch of Northern blokes to try and build a modern take on late 60s pop using an organ and some guitars, chances are you’d inevitability get some similar results. We don’t think the Skelly brothers are going to turn out to have Clint Boon posters on their walls. The shadow of Ian McCulloch is harder to dismiss, though – especially when ‘A Warning To The Curious’ keeps threatening to morph into Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘My White Devil’ the minute you let your mind wander.
The lowest point on the album comes during ‘Cripples Crown’, when James is called upon to sing the word “satellite”. He’s never been the strongest vocalist – natural frontman, yes, gifted singer, unfortunately not; but on familiar territory that’s never proven to be too much of a problem. With The Coral now attempting to expand their musical range, his shortcomings are starting to show themselves. There’s a few wobbles elsewhere, but that “satellite” is just too far overhead for him to reach. Sometimes you have to make allowances the size of Paris Hilton’s for the limited vocals.
Not that it matters over-much, as this album isn’t supposed to work as the Coral’s final word. It’s part of a process of deciding where the band are going, and the bits that don’t quite gel reveal as much about their talent as the many times they make it seem effortless.
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One of the album’s brightest moments, ‘Arabian Sands’, is inspired by a Salvador Dali painting, but the artist’s influence is more crucial for the whole of ‘The Invisible Invasion’. Dali’s position in art history is forever hobbled by the weight of his eccentric personality (how it must hurt to that he was being surreal just for the sake of it. The Coral have taken this as a warning, and changed their ways just in time to save themselves from the same fate. When you’ve got songs as good as ‘Late Afternoon’ and ‘So Long Ago’ , you don’t need videos with men dressed as bears riding bicycles. In fact, you’re much better off without them.
Simon Hayes Budgen